Senate attaches Udall’s proposal on military investments to defense bill

Source: Eugene Mulero, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Senate yesterday adopted a Democratic amendment to a defense policy bill that would restore the military’s ability to invest in biofuels.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered the amendment to the fiscal 2013 defense authorizing measure. His proposal would strike language barring the military from purchasing certain alternative fuels found to be costlier than petroleum-based fuels.

The Senate adopted it by a vote of 62-37.

The bill, as reported to the floor, initially would have limited the Defense Department’s purchasing authority of certain alternative fuel technologies. The House defense bill, passed in May, includes a similar provision.

Before the vote, Udall urged colleagues to back his proposal, arguing that military investments in alternative energy projects could lead to lower fuel prices. By adapting to domestic biofuels, the country could see its reliance on foreign oil supplies diminish, he added.

“Investments in new energy technologies and alternative fuels remain a top priority for our military leadership,” Udall said today.

After the vote, Udall, who also sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, hailed the “strong bipartisan vote.”

“Our military is on the cutting edge technologically, but much of our fighting capability relies on foreign fossil fuels and decades-old power systems. That dependence has very real human and economic costs,” he said in a statement.

Thirty-eight senators signed a letter backing the Pentagon’s biofuels efforts, stressing that successful development of these fuels could enhance commercial access for large-scale transit programs.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, passionately exclaimed on the floor that rejecting biofuels development hindered the military’s ability to develop strategies for warfare. Boxer also questioned the intent of the bill’s initial proposal.

“These are precisely the types of technologies the nation should be investing it,” Boxer said. “Is Big Oil calling the shots? I hope not.”

Explaining his support for the amendment, Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.), one of 11 Republicans who voted for Udall’s provision, stressed that he thinks it is important for the department to “develop new fuels as well.”

But conservatives such as Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the likely ranking Republican on the Armed Services panel in the 113th Congress, argued the development would prove a waste of military money. Inhofe is expected to push for certain limits to biofuels either during the bill’s floor consideration or when managers conference the bill.

The full Senate defense bill still contains a provision blocking the Navy’s portion of interagency investment in biofuel refineries.

The annual defense authorization bill is considered one of Congress’ must-pass pieces of legislation and has reached the president’s desk consistently for more than half a century.

Sponsored by Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), it would authorize $525.3 billion for the Pentagon and national security programs, $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan, and $17.8 billion for security programs at the Energy Department.

A vote on final passage could occur as early as Friday. After that, House and Senate lawmakers would still need to reconcile their versions before legislation can reach the president for his signature.

Mike Breen, executive director of the Truman National Security Project and spokesman for its clean energy campaign, Operation Free, praised the Senate vote and said he hopes lawmakers “continue to support these programs” during their conference.

Winslow Wheeler, a prominent defense analyst, predicts authorizers may still be stuck in the lame duck’s legislative gridlock during their conference negotiations because the jam-packed lame-duck schedule would add too many demands.

“If they can’t conference it in the lame duck, it’s going to die with the Congress and they’ll have to start all over again,” Wheeler said earlier this year.